SEMA News—June 2012
LEGISLATIVE & TECHNICAL AFFAIRS
By Steve McDonald
Law and Order
Law and Order is an update of some of the most recent federal and state legislative and regulatory issues that could potentially impact the automotive specialty-equipment industry. These include issues affecting small-business owners and their employees.
Specially Constructed Vehicles:
SEMA-supported legislation to exempt all motor vehicles prior to the 1981 model year from the emissions inspection requirement has been granted reconsideration after failing to be approved by the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee on a 3-4 vote. The bill will be reconsidered in a future committee hearing. In 2004, legislation was enacted to repeal California’s rolling emissions-test exemption for vehicles 30 years old and older and replace it with a law requiring the lifetime testing of all 1976 and newer model-year vehicles.
Antique/Rare/Special-Interest Motor Vehicles:
SEMA-opposed legislation to increase the age requirement for vehicles eligible for registration as “antique, rare or special-interest motor vehicles” was approved by the Connecticut Joint Committee on Planning and Development by a narrow 10-9 vote. Under the bill, vehicles to be registered as antique, rare or special-interest motor vehicles would be required to be at least 30 years old. Currently, vehicles 20 years old or older are eligible for this status and special license plates. For the purpose of property taxes, the bill also increases the maximum assessment of these vehicles from $500 to $2,500. The bill will now be sent to the Connecticut House of Representatives for a vote by all members.
SEMA is supporting resolutions introduced in the Hawaii House of Representatives urging the city and county of Honolulu to create a 10% vehicle registration credit for residents who drive limited miles in their vehicles, such as rarely used hobby cars. The resolutions were introduced to offset the burden put on certain vehicle owners by increased registration fees. Under the resolutions, the credit would extend to any resident who is registering a vehicle and can provide the two most recent safety inspections (at least 11 months apart) showing that less than 3,000 miles were driven between the two inspections.
SEMA is supporting Michigan legislation requiring retail dealers that offer gasoline for sale to label those pumps dispensing ethanol-blended gasoline with a notice that indicates the grade of gasoline and the percentage of ethanol contained. Under current Michigan law, gasoline that contains 10% or less ethanol is not subject to the labeling requirement. The bill provides that a person who violates the labeling requirement is liable for a civil fine up to $1,000 for each day the violation continues.
In 2010, SEMA-supported legislation to extend the emissions inspection exemption to vehicles five model years old or newer was signed into law, subject to approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Previous law exempted only vehicles four model years old or newer. The EPA has now incorporated revisions to the State Implementation Plan (SIP) submitted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to include the extension of the new vehicle inspection exemption from four years to five years. This action acknowledges the relatively minimal environmental impact of the vehicles targeted for this exemption and that it is senseless to test newer vehicles, the results of which demonstrate no significant air quality benefits.
SEMA-supported legislation to provide vehicle owners with the option of using vintage, original model-year license plates on antique and classic vehicles was signed into law by Governor Tom Corbett. Under the bill, an application fee of $75 would be charged to use year-of-manufacture plates. Under the measure, vintage plates must have been issued by the state between the years 1906 and 1975, must be provided by the vehicle owner and be legible from a reasonable distance. Under current law, antique-vehicle owners may apply for special antique, classic or collectible plates that bear the designation “antique vehicle.” These plates would still be available to state hobbyists if the bill is signed into law.
Vintage Travel Trailers:
SEMA helped defeat legislation that originally threatened to provide localities with the authority to raise from $100 to $500 the amount charged for an annual license tax for vehicles that do not display current license plates. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell vetoed a substitute bill containing SEMA-drafted amendments. The SEMA amendments exempted from the license tax all vehicles and parts cars stored on private property for the purpose of restoration or repair.
A bill to provide a cap on property taxes paid by owners of antique and classic motor vehicles was vetoed by Governor Early Ray Tomblin due to a technical issue. The bill had been amended and approved by the West Virginia State Legislature with a new $5,000 assessed value for all of these cars. Previous versions of the bill contained an assessed value provision of $1,000. Generally, the bill vetoed by the governor benefited antique and classic vehicle owners whose cars are worth more than $5,000. However, it would have penalized most antique and classic vehicle owners whose cars are worth less than $5,000. The legislature chose not to call an additional vote on the bill in an attempt to override the veto.
Motor Vehicle Registration Rights:
Legislation that originally sought to provide legal registration to hobby vehicles with clear titles, required safety equipment and in good working order was signed into law by Governor Scott Walker. Due to opposition from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the bill was amended to now affect only former military vehicles. Several pro-hobby provisions of the bill with application to all hobby vehicles were eliminated. While the amended bill does not solve the many problems associated with registering a hobby car in Wisconsin, it still gained SEMA’s support since it improves the rules governing former military vehicles.
Small Public Companies:
President Obama signed into law a bipartisan bill designed to remove regulatory barriers for companies going public and seeking to attract investors. The SEMA-supported “Jumpstart Our Business Startups” Act makes it easier for small companies to comply with Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules when securing outside capital investment. Companies will be able to file initial public offerings more quickly as regulations will be phased in over a period of five years. The legislation raises the threshold number of shareholders triggering SEC registration from 500 to 2,000 and increases the offering threshold from $5 million to $50 million in shares. Companies can raise capital using the Internet and social media so long as the website is registered with the SEC and investors are informed about a company’s financial condition and shareholder risks. Individual investments are limited to 5% of annual income for those earning under $100,000 a year and 10% for those earning above that amount. Companies with gross annual revenues of up to $1 billion can sell shares to the public while being exempted from some of the requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
Certain Steel Wheels from China:
The U.S. Senate passed its version of legislation to fund highway construction and other transportation projects over the next two years. SEMA supports the bill’s maintenance of current funding levels in order to address the nation’s aging infrastructure and provide states with more spending flexibility. The legislation also would dramatically increase fines for vehicle or equipment recalls and include mandates to address distracted driving, unintended acceleration and pedal placement and require installation of event data recorders. SEMA contends that current civil penalties are already higher than those imposed on manufacturers for many other types of consumer products, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is already addressing the other issues. The legislation has been sent to the House of Representatives, which is attempting to draft its own bill for a five-year plan. The draft bill currently does not include the auto safety provisions. The government’s authority to fund highway programs expires on June 30.
Forest Service Planning Rule:
The U.S. Forest Service updated its “Planning Rule,” which provides guidance and directives for managing the country’s 155 national forests and 20 grasslands encompassing 193 million acres. The courts have rejected previous versions of the Planning Rule in recent years. SEMA joined with a number of other organizations representing the off-road community in opposing the latest version on grounds that it does not adequately protect access for motorized recreation and will be a source of ongoing litigation. Lawmakers attending a recent U.S. House Natural Resources Subcommittee hearing expressed similar concerns, noting that the rule incorporates a number of undefined terms and does not ensure a “full mix of recreational opportunities.” The issue is of importance to SEMA-member companies that market products to the off-road community based on the consumers’ ability to have access to Forest Service roads and trails. Forest managers will now begin applying the rule’s guidelines as they gradually update management rules for each individual forest and grassland.